Place-Making, Chippewa Valley Style

Eau Claire’s Confluence Project is changing the Chippewa Valley by making it a special destination of its own. Surrounding areas are responding in kind with their own projects. What does it mean if Eau Claire becomes an art mecca?

Phoenix Park has a gorgeous pavilion on the water in downtown Eau Claire. It has long been a center of activity for music and the farmers market. Now, the Confluence Project takes that amazingness and amps it up with a new outdoor space connected with the Phoenix Park area as well as 2 buildings that will have space for theatre, the arts, and retail (the possibilities are awesome).

The Confluence is a Major Development that will be working with the University of WI, Eau Claire as well as the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center.

We want more!

Even if you’ve been half-snoozing during the evening news, you know that Menomonie is building a pavilion for their own Farmer’s Market. The City of Chippewa Falls has also decided to invest in a large city park on the edge of downtown. Perched at the end of the bridge, it will give Chippewa Falls a huge helping of curb appeal.

There’s also a TON of hotels going up. The possibilities for the area are going up along with the multi-story buildings.

What’s next?

The Confluence has only just begun its build, so I expect to see more and more investment in Eau Claire and the surrounding area. There will be more business opportunities, and perhaps local wages will go up as well as the demand for skilled workers increases.

In prior years, it was almost like we were advertising that ‘Hey, we’re close to the Twin Cities!’ as a reason to move here. *yawn* That just wasn’t cutting the mustard. We’re not close enough for that to be the reason to move here.

NOW, we are place-making.

Several years ago, I and my husband JP found ourselves travelling to historic downtown Hudson, WI. Several times over the course of a summer, we found ourselves walking the sidewalks, enjoying meals, drifting in and out of shops and talking. The downtown area was historically beautiful, walkable, open to the water for recreation, and full of lovely shops.

Finally, on one of the trips back to Eau Claire, I exclaimed ‘THIS is what we need in Eau Claire! Why, oh, why don’t we have something like this?’ As my husband loves to encourage me, he listened for the next 45 minutes as I went on about how this could and should happen.

It’s more than music,

(but we’ll take that, too.)

Music has been a draw for several years in Eau Claire. The Eaux Claires festival, Rock Fest, Country Fest, and Country Jam all bring crowds – not to mention all of our local talent.

Place-making is personal.

When public spaces have this level of draw, it’s personal. When you’re designing (when I’m designing), I think of everything dependent upon how you view the space. If you’re driving by, things are much different than if you’re walking. Likewise, if you’re looking down from an upper story.

Creating walkable spaces in a downtown makes it personal. That means stopping and considering everything not only from a car but even more importantly — from the sidewalk.

The advantage of my years of experience as a residential landscape designer is that I am well-versed with the personal interaction of landscape. Walk-through a beautiful space, and you will see what I mean. If you’ve been to a downtown that resonates with beauty and fun, it stays with you — think San Antonio’s Riverwalk.

If the downtown is to have that magnetic draw that is required for this level of amazingness, expect to see and feel something magical when you get out and walk around.

I am looking forward to all of what Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley will be offering in the coming years. We’re adding a revamped downtown as well as a huge infusion of the arts – my only question is ‘What’s next?’



How to Get a Step Ahead

Aside from working your butt off, cultivating your inner gladiator, and letting out a motivational roar every Monday, how can you get a step ahead of the competition?

Public speaking.

I’ve worked in many industries where competition is strong — engineering and the construction trades. Frankly, when they see me coming, they do their best to run me over. I’ve noticed. Don’t worry — I’m tough. It’s a fun and challenging dynamic.

One time, I went to a seminar in Menomonie regarding upcoming regulations for the landscaping industry. We were paired up with other attendees (IOW, other business owners and the competition). Our task? To design a landscape that would comply with new watershed regulations.

We had a few minutes to prepare, and the other 2 members of the team verbally tried their best to assert their own ideas. Then, it happened. We were asked to present our ideas.

Immediately, both men volunteered me to present.

They were nervous to present their ideas — even though it was really informal and not a big deal. In my brain, a bell rang. Why not develop the one area where other people scramble to get away from?

Consider — if you want to get ahead, instead of running with the pack, check to see what they’re running FROM.

Heidi Schreiner is a public speaker. She has spoken on topics such as leadership, culture, and marketing presentations for organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, writers groups, and Toastmasters. Want to know  more? Contact me, and let’s chat!

Design Differentiates

I know of a guy who actually spent thousands on a bicycle. That concept to me is way out there, but, hey, he bikes a LOT. Thing is, the major decision for him of WHERE to purchase that bike (he bought locally – YAY!) came down to the company website. Simple as that.

He found a local bike seller, but didn’t like their website, so he moved on to option #2 (different local bike seller). How many times does this happen?

Every single day.

Design does this. Too, too many times as a designer, I found those who KNOW the value of design. They understand. Here it is in a nutshell – it’s there, whether you invest time and finances into it or not. It communicates to your clients what you are really like – whether you say anything or not.

If you are a photographer, hopefully your website is modern and beautiful, so that a visitor (potential client!) will know that you understand that visuals are important. THEN, they can relax and look at your photos which should communicate the same – that you understand visuals and how to put them together.

Design is everywhere.

It’s all around us – in our homes and how the rooms are laid out. In our coffee cup. Our clothes. Even the glass jar that our salsa comes in.

When you’re a small business, you absolutely have to be different than every other business. If you are a commodity, you are giving your customers permission to shop only based on price. AAarrgh!

THAT is a losing game, peeps!

If you are doing what many businesses do and cutting pricing down to the bone or giving tons of discounts off your costing, you are sending the wrong message – that you are cheap, just like everyone else. That’s BAD!!

Instead – whether you are a window washer, electrician, or dog groomer – you must differentiate. Be different.

HOW do I do that, you say?

Design does that. If your branding is nailed down and well thought out, branding will communicate what nothing else can. If you have a killer logo, business card, and website, your customers will many times choose you over the guy whose branding is stuck in the 80’s or just icky (or branding that communicates the wrong message).

Also, think about other things you can do to be different. If you visit clients’ homes as a contractor, are all of your vehicles newer, so they don’t drip oil on their driveways? Do they have extra mirrors for safety? Do you have a 24 hour emergency service policy? It might seem simple, but each of these things can make you BETTER than your competition!

If you have any of the above policies or items – like safer vehicles – make sure that you plan how you will communicate this to your potential clients.

You KNOW that you are better than your competition, so how will you SAY that?

In case I didn’t communicate it clearly enough before – be different.

Design differentiates.

Leadership and Learning by doing

There’s only so much you can get from books. I’ve read 1000’s of books in my lifetime. Hundreds of them are about business and leadership.

I love books.

Books can get you to a lot of places. They’ve got loads of great information in them. There is a point, however, where you have to put the book down and get busy.

Getting up in front.

Recently, we had the Eau Claire kickoff for 1 Million Cups. I had the good fortune to be the emcee for the event. It was fun! 1 Million Cups gives business owners a chance to network over coffee (1 Million Cups of coffee, perhaps?). It’s also a way to learn from each other. Each week, business owners with a business that is less than 5 years old can present their idea and tell their story. At the end, the group audience asks questions and gives advice to help these entrepreneurs on their way. We all learn in the process.

Some of the folks on the organizational team are younger than I. I see in them the enthusiasm that it takes to be great at something, and when none of them shot their arm up to be the emcee, it got me thinking.

One of the ways to be successful (in my humble opinion) is to grow yourself as a leader. On-line, you could be a thought leader. Off-line, you could be presenting seminars about your area of expertise, speaking up at business meetings, or emceeing an event for young start-up businesses. It’s not easy, but that’s why you don’t see everyone doing it. If you want to make your mark in your industry, this is a great way to do that.

Start learning about leadership.

I’ve been a member of Toastmasters since 2013. In Toastmasters, you can grow your leadership qualities as much as you want. It takes work, of course, but there are people to help you and projects aplenty.

In my time at Toastmasters, I’ve gotten used to getting up in front of people. Then, I was elected into several leadership positions, and I … learned by figuring it out along the way. I asked questions and made mistakes. I connected with people and asked more questions.

Sometimes at work, it can be tough to take on new projects with confidence. This is especially true if you’ve not done it before. Don’t let that stop you.

More and more young people could be getting a step up on their careers by practicing getting in front of people on a regular basis.

This spring, I will be presenting ‘How to lead so they want to follow’ at the Spring Convention for the District 35 Toastmasters. The very first thing that I will be discussing is how to put yourself in leadership situations, so you can learn. Without that, you can’t get there from here.

Being a leader gets you noticed. Getting noticed is like free publicity. Free publicity is like cake. Everybody likes cake*.

*vague reference from Shrek because I’m like that.